Women and gay men share a struggle. It’s an historic struggle and it continues today. The struggle is against the control straight men want to maintain over women, especially over women’s reproductive processes, and against the self–image straight men have developed over millennia to convince themselves, women, and gay men that masculine is inherently better than feminine.
Straight men have had it easy for most of the history of the European and American cultures. They have controlled society. By law, women and gay men have been marginalized, persecuted, imprisoned, and, in not a few cases, killed (see Salem Witch Trials). By Western religions, women have been told that they are the source of sin, the burden men have to bear in order to develop and maintain families, and the subjects of husbands’ control in marriage and in religious gatherings. By Western religions, gay men have been told that we are an abomination, the worst kind of human being, deserving of death. The only reason women and gay men have been successfully bullied and persecuted in these ways down through the centuries is that straight men have, until very, very recently, controlled everything: the law, the church and synagogue, the government, and the media.
Gay men are an affront to the image that straight men have developed and promulgated for themselves. Gay men have the anatomy and opportunities that straight men have for marriage and reproduction, for power and leadership in a male–controlled society. Gay men, however, choose to pass on the offer of these goodies. Because we cannot maintain a lifetime of deception, we can’t marry, or, if we do, the marriages tend to be miserable for one or both of the parties and so don’t last. Because we are not attracted to sex with women, we can’t participate in the macho one-ups-man-ship that is the foundation of many a competitive straight man’s social life. Because many of us have been treated badly by straight men as we’ve grown up, gay men often are very sensitive to the hurt that is done to women by their boyfriends, lovers, and husbands, and express that sensitivity by befriending and helping hurting women. That sensitivity further alienates us from these straight men.
Gay men are worse than women to these straight men. Women can’t help it. They are born without penises. Gay men can help it. All we have to do, these dudes tell us, is “man up” and get over ourselves and go out and fuck a woman. I am a first–hand witness to this prescription: I was told this on three separate occasions by three separate professional men. Not “manning up” puts us in the same class as Esau who sold his valuable birthright to Jacob for a bowl of porridge. By not valuing straight masculinity, gay men devalue the myth of masculine supremacy that is essential to this view of sexual superiority and threaten to bring down this weak and baseless belief that straight men have fought so many battles and wars to maintain.
Hispanics and other Latin cultures, like all other Western cultures, participate in this straight–man myth. For some reason, the Hispanic culture seems to accentuate the importance of masculinity in men. The words “macho” (manly) and machismo (manliness) are Spanish, and I don’t think that’s an accident. I haven’t known many Hispanic gay men personally, but I have known three very well. One man was from Brazil. In Brazil, he had a young, very nice wife. In Brazil he lived his life as a straight man and voted for political candidates who promised to deal harshly with gay rights. In Washington, D.C., where he worked for more than half the year, he was an out gay man whose lover was a beautiful African–American professional singer, a tenor. At a birthday party for a mutual friend one day, I asked my Brazilian acquaintance how he managed to reconcile his two lives. I asked him point–blank, “Are you gay or straight?” He answered that he was totally gay, but in order to be an accepted member of his family (and in order to inherit his rich father’s money) he had to be straight. So, in Brazil, he was straight and in D.C. he was — trust me on this — very gay. From him I heard for the first time the Latin law: if you give head or get fucked, you are a faggot. If you get a blow job from, or fuck a man, you are just a straight man in a bind. Because he wasn’t, by any stretch of the definition, a top, my Brazilian acquaintance was in a world of contradiction, a contradiction that he successfully navigated thanks to a job that kept him in the U.S. for seven or eight months out of the year.
Another Hispanic friend of mine is from Ecuador. He came to the U.S. specifically so he could live his life as an out gay man. He was out to his dad, whom he loved very much, but he could never even think about coming out to his mother. His father maintained his close relationship with my friend, but he kept urging him to marry and produce “just one baby.” If he could manage that, then he could continue on in his marriage of convenience and have a gay lover on the side, just as so many married men in his culture have mistresses. Were my friend to do this, his father argued, he would be a member in good standing of the straight men’s club and could come back to Ecuador, no questions asked.
I am not an anthropologist or a sociologist, or even a serious student of gay history, so I am not sure why Hispanic culture has what seems to me to be almost a Jesuitical view of homosexuality. If you’re the top, you’re not gay. If you are a married dad, even if you have a gay lover, you aren’t gay. It’s almost as though the formalities of the sexual culture must be observed at all costs. People seem to know instinctively that there are gay things going on now and then by some of the people they know, and they have no problem with it if (1) it’s all hidden behind a marriage, and (2) the member of their family is never penetrated sexually.
African–American attitudes toward their gay sons and brothers is much harsher, in my opinion. I have thought about this situation a lot, because I have had many gay African–American friends, several of whom are among my closest friends. Gay sexuality in the African–American community is tied up with the huge question of the absent African–American dad. Because of slavery and the horrible things it did to the family lives of slaves, and because of the inhuman way African–Americans have been treated in this country since the abolition of slavery, African–American families have been under constant and morbid stress. Black men have been put down, humiliated, distrusted, subjected to injustice, and killed just for being black men. I can’t imagine what it must be like to know that, if I am successful and can afford a nice car, and if I am a black man, I have a hugely greater chance of being stopped by the police for no other reason than that I am an African–American male with a nice car. That kind of life, that kind of treatment, is dehumanizing and brutal and it hurts.
To nurture and foster their male children, I believe that middle class African–American families pay special attention to their sons. This special attention protects them and insulates them from the cruelty that our society still visits on them. That attention also seeks to develop a good, solid, contributing African–American heterosexual citizen who will be able to raise up a family even more successful and healthy than the family of his birth. One of my African–American friends had a grandmother who died in 2006 at the age of 101. She once told me that she had been disappointed when my friend came out to her, although his coming out didn’t surprise her in the least. She said that “her people” had to cherish young men like my friend, who was a talented musician and teacher, and who earned his Ph.D. summa cum laude. His being gay was a loss to the whole community, in his grandmother’s view. My friend had been subjected to countless hours of counseling from his AME Church pastor, prayed over, and sent to shrinks. His family was convinced that not only was his being gay a loss to the family and the African–American community, it also was an affront to the God who had brought their family so much success, security, and comfort.
All my African-American gay friends have hard stories to tell of family rejection, misunderstanding, and condemnation. It seems always to come from the same two sources: the need of the community for good, upstanding fathers, and the fear of God’s wrath that these Bible–believing people are sure awaits anyone who is gay.
I’ve been sitting her debating whether to put this up on my blog. It is very amateurish and anecdotal. It wanders. It probably doesn’t make a lot of sense. I’ve decided to post it because it’s my blog, and I can put on it whatever I damn well want!
Please just think kindly of me when you hurry away. My intentions have been good! Luvin!